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Reasonableness of Handcuffing during a valid “Terry Stop”

Does handcuffing during a “Terry Stop” transform the stop into a full-blown arrest, which requires the officer to have probable cause rather than the lesser requirement of reasonable suspicion? A case from the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut determined that the application of handcuffs does not automatically turn an otherwise valid “Terry Stop” into a full-blown arrest.

In Riordan and Bruzy v. Trooper Joyner et. al, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5312 (Dist. CT. 2005) a trial court reviewed the stop and temporary detention of Kathleen Bruzy and Mark Riordan by the Connecticut State Police. On June 28, 2002, the state police received a call from a man named Henry Angelico, who reported that he was behind a car on the highway and that he heard a loud noise come from the vehicle and had observed smoke coming from the driver’s window. Mr. Angelico thought that a shot had been fired from the vehicle. In addition to identifying himself, Mr. Angelico described the vehicle and provided his license plate. He remained behind the vehicle and turned on his emergency flashers as the troopers approached so that they would more easily spot the vehicle. Kathleen Bruzy, who had just left her workplace, was driving the vehicle in question. Her boyfriend, Mark Riordan, was driving in a separate vehicle in tandem with Bruzy.

The troopers pulled Bruzy over and conducted a high-risk traffic stop. Riordan, upon seeing the stop, pulled over ahead of Bruzy but did not get out of his vehicle. The trooper pointed a shotgun at Bruzy as she exited her vehicle. A trooper patted-down Bruzy and handcuffed her while additional troopers searched her vehicle. Two police officers from North Haven Police Department approached Riordan who acknowledged that Bruzy was his girlfriend. The officers removed Riordan from his vehicle and handcuffed him. Other officers searched Riordan’s vehicle for weapons. During the search of Riordan’s vehicle, he twice complained about the tightness of the handcuffs. Upon complaining the second time, an officer checked and then loosened the handcuffs. When no weapons were found Bruzy and Riordan were released and told that the man who had made the report [they were?] was sorry. Riordan and Bruzy then filed a lawsuit alleging that they were illegally arrested and subject to excessive force.

The court first dealt with the issue of whether the use of handcuffs changed the nature of the police contact from a investigatory detention – only requiring reasonable suspicion – to a full-blown arrest, which would require probable cause. In analyzing this issue, the court looked at factors used by the United States Court of Appeal for the 2nd Circuit in determining the line between a temporary detention and an arrest. Among the factors examined were: the “amount of force used by the police, the need for such force, and the extent to which an individual’s freedom of movement was restrained, and in particular, such factors as the number of agents involved, whether the target of the stop was suspected of being armed, the duration of the stop, and the physical treatment of the suspect, including whether or not handcuffs were used.” [citing U.S. v. Vargas, 369 F.3d 98, 101 (2nd Cir. 2004)]. The court noted that use of handcuffs during a “Terry Stop” is not the ordinary course of events, but it does not necessarily change the event to an arrest “when it [use of handcuffs] is a reasonable response to legitimate safety concerns on the part of the investigating officers… Further, the fact that the officers approached a stopped car with guns drawn in order to protect themselves and bystanders on the street [does not] necessarily transmute a ‘Terry stop’ into an arrest.”

In applying the law to the facts here, the court noted that the troopers had information from an identified good-citizen informant who remained on the scene during the police investigation. The troopers had no reason to believe that Mr. Angelico’s information regarding Bruzy and her vehicle was unreliable. In looking at the treatment of Riordan, the court noted that officers were aware that Riiordan’s fiancé was under investigation for firing a shot. “Although Riordan had not been disruptive to the investigation, there was the potential that he could do so. Objectively speaking, the justification for placing Riordan in handcuffs was twofold: (1) to prevent him from disrupting the investigation of Bruzy, and (2) to determine if Riordan had any role in the suspected criminal activity.” The court found that the actions of the Troopers and officers were reasonable with respect to Bruzy and Riordan and notwithstanding the handcuffing, remained a “Terry stop” and not a full-blown arrest. As such the officers were released from liability.


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